Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Video: Evangelizing for the space program

by Salman Hameed

On Friday I had a chance to participate in a workshop on science communication in London (and travel being the reason for the lack of posts the past couple of days). One of the things that stood out for me is the fact that the field of science communication is truly maturing now. It is looking beyond the simple communication of science facts to actually taking into account the varied compositions of audiences, and to being sensitive about the diverse background of audiences. There was also an interesting comment during the workshop that the state of science communication in UK is actually quite decent. Indeed, just look at a slew of high quality BBC programs with David Attenborough and Brian Cox.

In any case, talking of science (and policy) communication, here is a nicely done video of Neil deGrasse Tyson's comments on the short-sighted policies of the US government towards the investment in the human space program. In some ways, cold war was good for science funding - and without a threat, funding can be tight. The title here is "We Stopped Dreaming". Enjoy.


Asad M said...

Science communication is an area where any Govt. can take initiative. The BBC (a public broadcaster) is putting the UK tax payers’ money to good use by producing quality science programming in the last few years. On the other hand, private networks in the USA (like Discovery, Nat Geo with the exception of Nova which is still good) have been reduced to the level of so-called ‘reality’ shows.

Here’s Brian Cox talking of the ideal uses of Apple’s $100B cash reserves, but probably won’t happen…

Gary said...

I still remember those dreams. The spin-offs from the moon program and the space shuttle brought a mixture of good and bad. Especially since some of NASA's work was done for the military. The benefits however are not truly appreciated and the lessons from the space program went unheeded.

If America truly wants to thrive it needs to divert money from the warmongers and weapons makers and make the dreams of space a reality. After all Nasa's budget is miniscule compared to the defense budget and the cost of the wars it finances.

The rest of us? Well John Wyndham,
A mid 20th century Science fiction writer wrote "The Outward Urge". This was a collection of science fiction short stories about characters who carried the dream of space forward despite the barriers set out by the naysayers.

Sadly Wyndham died in the year before the moon landings. The "Outward Urge" should be kept alive.

Salman Hameed said...


Yes, in fact this issue of Discovery and National Geo came up at the London meeting as well - and their shabby science coverage is really a shame.

Cannot disagree with you here. It is interesting that this "outward urge" is more universal than the petty national interests (for example, to defeat the Soviets in getting to the Moon) that often provide the financial justifications.

By the way, if you haven't seen From the Earth to the Moon - 12 part HBO mini-seies from the late 1990s, check it out. The first episode truly captures the excitement of the time. I wasn't on this planet at the time, but it still gives me goosebumps. And episode 5 of the series, titled "Spider", is all about the challenges of designing the lunar lander. On the surface it sounds a bit boring, but it was the best episode of the series.

Gary said...


I have seen parts of the HBO program and am still amazed at what was achieved. And I was 6 years old when Sputnik 1 woke America from its lethargy. I can remember the excitement of hose times. NASA sent its travelling roadshow to my high school in Australia and did experiments and demonstrations which are no longer permitted in the safety sanitised realm of high school science, (watching liquid oxygen get poured over a candle flame was a sight to behold).

I was in my final year at high school when the first moon landing happened. We were all ushered into the assembly hall to watch it on a black and white TV. When Neil Armstrong's first steps were delayed we were all sent back to classes. Lucky for us the Head Prefect was a science geek and us senior locked ourselves in the prefect's room and continued to watch to on their TV. It must have been his only infraction of school rules apart from squirting some Butyric acid under the English master's door during the high jinks of our final day at school.

He went on to get a double degree in physics and chemistry, a university medal and a PhD in quantum physics. After a brief career chasing ever diminishing research grants he now applies his prodigious mathematical skills to modelling the share market and by all accounts is obscenely wealthy

Salman Hameed said...


Well there is whole spike of physics and astronomy PhDs as a result of the Apollo program and its excitement. This is exactly where it becomes hard to exactly place value on an investment such as the space program.
May be the Chinese efforts on this front will heat up the space race again...

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